Malaysia Frees Ex-Bangladeshi Envoy with UNHCR Refugee Status

Nisha David and Suganya Lingan
2022.02.16
Kuala Lumpur
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Malaysia Frees Ex-Bangladeshi Envoy with UNHCR Refugee Status Bangladeshi ex-envoy to Malaysia Md. Khairuzzaman (second from right) poses for a picture with his lawyers and a friend in Putrajaya, Malaysia after his release from immigration detention, Feb. 16, 2022.
[Photo courtesy of Ngeow Chow Ying]

Malaysian authorities on Wednesday unconditionally released a former Bangladeshi ambassador to the country who was arrested last week on suspicion of an immigration offense, one of the ex-diplomat’s lawyers said.  

Immigration officials did not give a reason for freeing Md. Khairuzzaman from jail, said lawyer Ngeow Chow Ying, about the former Bangladeshi high commissioner whose deportation a Malaysian court had blocked on Tuesday.

“We received a call from the investigating officer at 1 p.m. and were told that he will be released. He was released with no conditions,” Ngeow told BenarNews. 

Khairuzzaman had been taken into custody from his home near Kuala Lumpur by Malaysian immigration officials on Feb. 9, with Dhaka saying it had requested his arrest “as he was involved in” the jailhouse killing of former ministers more than 46 years ago.

The former diplomat is a United Nations refugee agency card holder. Malaysian officials had said Khairuzzaman was arrested for overstaying his visa, but they did not comment on the former diplomat’s status as a refugee.

Khairuzzaman spoke to BenarNews after his release Wednesday and denied Dhaka’s accusation that he was involved in the 1975 killings.

“The accusations are really false and a court in Bangladesh had proved I’m not guilty,” said Khairuzzaman, a former officer in the Bangladeshi army.

“Only after I got acquitted did I become the high commissioner [to Malaysia].”

He said the current Bangladeshi government was targeting him because his wife’s father was one of the founders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the country’s main opposition party.

“That is why I’m treated like this. All these are false accusations,” he said.

“I was not involved in the killing[s], not even a percent. I cannot become a high commissioner if I were to have a hand in the incident. If I did, do you think Malaysia would have accepted me as the high commissioner?”

Since Khairuzzaman’s detention last week, several NGOs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged the Malaysian government to stop the deportation of refugees. 

UNHCR said that refugees could not be deported to their countries of origin according to the principle of non-refoulement, which calls on governments to not forcibly send refugees back to a country where their freedom or lives can be in jeopardy. 

The Malaysian government and the immigration department had said that Khairuzzaman’s arrest was made according to the law.

Repeated calls by Benar News on Wednesday to the Malaysian home minister’s office and the immigration department were not immediately returned.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, indicated last Saturday that Dhaka wanted Khairuzzaman back likely for political reasons.

“We have seen time and time again the vindictive, rights-abusing behavior of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government who vengefully pursue political opponents for any perceived slight in the past,” Robertson said on Twitter. “Save Mohamed Khairuzzaman!”

‘A political agenda’

In Dhaka on Wednesday, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said the government had been informed of Khairuzzaman’s release in Kuala Lumpur.

“Now we will go through the legal process to extradite him,” he said in response to media questions.

“We try to bring our criminals who are in another country back under the law. Many have become fugitives. But if we get anyone’s location, we resort to legal processes.”

Bangladesh Home Minister M. Shahriar Alam had said last week that Dhaka hoped to bring the former envoy back soon.

“The Home and Law ministries will jointly look into whether there is an opportunity to revive the [jail killings] case against him or what steps can be taken afterward,” Alam said.Before his acquittal, Khairuzzaman and other military personnel had been accused of killing four founding leaders of Bangladesh inside the Dhaka Central Jail in November 1975.

The four were ministers serving under the country’s founding leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the late father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who leads the Awami League party. Mujibur was assassinated in a military coup three months earlier.

In 2004, when Bangladesh was led by the now-opposition BNP, a court acquitted Khairuzzaman of involvement in the 1975 killings.

He had been serving as a diplomat in Kuala Lumpur when Hasina and the Awami League returned to power in 2009. Ordered back to Dhaka, he chose to stay in Malaysia and received a refugee card from UNHCR.

When asked on Wednesday why he did not want to go back to Bangladesh in 2009, the former envoy said it was because he was aware he would be targeted by the Hasina government.

“I did not want to go back to Bangladesh in 2009 because I knew then that they were going to charge me again,” he said.

“They do not have any proof against me, all this is a political agenda by the … government.”

The former envoy said he was now waiting to receive the documents required to move to the United States, where his wife and one son live.“Currently I’m waiting for the papers to be done before leaving Malaysia and going to the U.S. to settle down there with my family,” Khairuzzaman said.

“For 17 years, I’ve been alone here.”

Jesmin Papri contributed to this report from Dhaka.

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